Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Chasing after pleasure

If life under the sun is meaningless, we may as well try to make our own pleasure, said Pastor Paul Vandenbrink, speaking to students at Smithville Christian High School during the second chapel of Spiritual Emphasis Week.

“That’s what the teacher did,” said Vandenbrink, referring to the writer of Ecclesiastes, who tried it all. Vandenbrink read Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 and 3:9-14. 
1I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.
I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem[a] as well—the delights of a man’s heart. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.
10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
    I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
    and this was the reward for all my toil.
11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
    and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
    nothing was gained under the sun.
* * * 
What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet[a] no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.

Vandenbrink said the teacher tried it all, but he also tried to be smart about it: pursuing pleasure while engaging his mind because he wanted to figure out what is worthwhile. 

There are two ways of pursuing pleasure, Vandenbrink said, – the “party hard” lifestyle found in verse 3 of the passage and the “build it big” lifestyle found in verses 4 to 9. 

People are still trying both approaches today, he said, using drugs, alcohol or sex to have fun and feel better about themselves, or trying to amass money and prestige.

“Our culture tells us a little bit of booze or dope or sex works,” he said. “It looks good, people seem happy. And on one level, yes, it does work. I am not going to pretend that people don’t have fun living this way.”

But it only feels good for a while, he said. The problem is the next day, when we realize it’s just not cutting it. There’s brief satisfaction, but “what the devil gives you with one hand, he takes away with the other,” he said.

“The Rolling Stones were right. You can’t get no satisfaction.”

Similarly having a family or making enough money to take the right vacations or play enough golf don’t satisfy us either, he said, quoting Jack Higgins from The Eagle Has Landed: “When you get to the top, you discover there is nothing there.”

The problem with pursuing pleasure and the reason why it doesn’t satisfy us can be found in verse 11: God has set eternity in our hearts, Vandenbrink said.

“Inside of us there is a longing for eternity,” he said. C.S. Lewis said we all know deep down we are longing for something that cannot be had in this world; that we were made for another world.

The reason we have this longing can be found in verse 14: God wants us to long for him. Just as Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well that he could provide living water that would satisfy her thirst, only Jesus can truly satisfy us.

That’s because he knows us and because he loves us and because he suffered and died to save us, Vandenbrink said. “If I find myself with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy it’s probably because earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it.”

In the end, what we need is the transformation of pleasure, he said.

“When Jesus is your pleasure, it puts all these other pleasures in their proper place.” Having the latest phone, going on a date with a special someone “are all good things, but they are meant to be signs, pointing you to the greatest pleasure,” which is God. Accepting less than that would be aiming too low, he said, quoting C.S. Lewis. “We are far too easily pleased.”
Vandenbrink read Isaiah 55:1-2.
“Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare. 

The thing that will truly satisfy us can be bought without cost, Vandenbrink said. “It cost Jesus everything but it is totally free, and it is right there, waiting for you.” 

A student praise team led in worship and small group discussions took place at lunch.

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